A House committee subpoenaed Bush chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers to testify, predictably drawing a White House assertion of executive privilege. President Bush would be remiss if he didn't keep his aides from being forced to reveal deliberations about such a core executive function as hiring and firing executive-branch officials. Now the House is moving toward citing these high-level White House officials for criminal contempt of Congress, an unprecedented move.
And a futile one. It has been the policy of administrations of both parties that -- on grounds of separation of powers -- U.S. attorneys won't enforce criminal contempt of Congress for assertions of executive privilege. Democrats simply could take the dispute to court. Instead, they want the contempt citations and constitutional showdown. The more headlines about subpoenas, contempt of Congress, special counsels and all the other investigative detritus, they figure, the better.
This is a grave political miscalculation. Absent a Watergate-style smoking gun, or at least some plausible whiff of gunpowder, voters aren't interested in scandal monomania. The only political effect of the investigative onslaught is to please the bloodthirsty Democratic "netroots" who are desperate for excuses to try to impeach Bush, while convincing voters that Washington is a disgusting cockpit of partisan rancor oblivious to their true concerns. There is a reason President Bush can be at 28 percent approval and still double Congress' rating in some polls.
But Democrats can't help themselves. They've held more than 600 oversight hearings so far, and these hearings are close to their only accomplishment. The Democratic majority brings to mind a paraphrase of the old saw about teaching: Those who can, legislate. Those who can't, investigate.